Vivica Genaux

Vivaldi: Opera Arias "Pyrotechnics"

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This album is certainly aptly named; it would be hard to find a better word to describe this fiery music and these dazzling performances than pyrotechnic. American mezzo-soprano Viveca Genaux has a remarkable technique, and she pulls off Vivaldi's outrageous vocal requirements (which frequently sound as if he'd forgotten he was writing for a human who has a need to breathe occasionally, and was writing for violin) with bravura and apparent ease. It's not all about extravagant singing, though; Genaux brings emotional depth to these arias, creating convincingly differentiated characters. The album opens with an aria from Catone in Utica that is taken at such a breakneck speed and that makes such merciless technical demands and that flies up and down such a hyper-extended range that the listener may be left exhausted. In a wise programming move, Genaux mixes this kind of showpiece up with some less agitated arias, which, while providing plenty of pyrotechnics themselves, in this context offer some respite. A fine example of a more lyrical aria is "Vorrei dirti il mio dolore," from Rosmira fedele, an especially substantial piece sung with deep feeling. Genaux doesn't have the glossy voice usually associated with this kind of coloratura repertoire; she is, after all, a mezzo, with plenty of dark colors along with the light, and she's capable of a weightiness that sometimes recalls Marilyn Horne when the music requires it. Fabio Biondi, leading Europa Galante, provides exceptionally sensitive accompaniments; he seems acutely aware of the dramatic arc of each of the arias and makes what could be merely relentless note-spinning into emotionally meaningful narratives. The sound is clean and brilliant, but the voice sometimes migrates distractingly between channels.

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